I made the mistake of eating bacon while browsing through the food news recently. My stomach turned as I happened upon an article on The Daily Beast that had new information about the dramatic and deadly virus speeding through pork farms in the United States. Regardless of your feelings about meat consumption, here's what you need to know about this pig virus.
It is more serious than originally thought
At first, it was thought to be a less severe transmissible gastroenteritis virus that has been an issue for U.S. pig farms in the past. When the usual measures for containing and stopping transmission of the virus didn’t work, the U.S. Department of Agriculture took another look and discovered Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus or PEDv. This is not good news. While it’s been around since the 1970s, this is the first time that PEDv has made an appearance in the U.S. No pigs are immune to the virus. Scientists are unsure of how this outbreak began because of the initial misdiagnosis.
This is a big deal
For pig farmers, this virus is a big problem. Since the outbreak started, more than 7 million pigs have died in the U.S. Scientists estimate that 100,000 pigs are dying every week.
This is a serious concern for proper waste disposal
The virus spreads through fecal matter. Pigs, on average, produce 10 times more poop than humans. They also generally live in very confined quarters. Sanitation probably isn’t what it should be in most pig quarters. You can understand why this virus can easily and quickly spread through a herd. Not only do you have all of that fecal matter, but now farmers have the added problem of proper disposal of the pigs; if it isn’t done properly, bacteria can continue to spread.
The bacteria doesn’t die easily
Unfortunately not only can this bacteria be easily transferred from pig to pig, but the bacteria doesn’t die easily either. That means that one sick pig can expose a whole truckload of pigs to the virus, and then also leave bacteria on the truck ready and waiting for the next load of pigs.
The good news
Researchers say there is no danger of this virus being transmitted to humans and that there is no danger of eating bacon during this outbreak. (Though truthfully, the whole topic grosses me out and has made me less interested in eating bacon.)
Scientists are rolling out vaccines, and hope to improve them with time, so hopefully that will help stop the spread. Measures are also in place to improve sanitation, reporting about sick pigs, and other protocols to stem the tide. However, we won’t know until the fall whether these changes are making a difference.
An unanswered question for me
One glaring question I had when reading over this information was whether this was primarily a problem because of the conventional mass production of pork. Are small farmers using ecologically friendly, out-in-the-pasture pork raising techniques effected by this? I’d be curious to learn whether those practices offer some protection from the ravages of this horrible virus.
Meanwhile, Robin has some ideas on how to enjoy your bacon in moderation while bacon prices rise due to this crisis.
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